Activism and... criminal records

IssueNovember 2011

The problem was, as the head teacher explained in his letter, that I had convictions for criminal damage and therefore was not a suitable person to be working in a school. The details of the matter – that I had told the school about my criminal record months ago and that my most recent conviction was over twelve years ago – were of no interest to him. The fact that I’m a governor at another school also left him unimpressed.

He had never met me but had formed this impression of me as dangerous to children purely on the basis of looking at my criminal record, passed on to him by the county authorities. This is my second sacking. A few years ago I was working as a registered nurse when the agency I worked for was taken over by a bigger firm. All of a sudden, work dried up. For months I was told that there wasn’t any work available, then finally someone admitted to me that they’d been told not to offer me any more work.

The reason? The new owners of the agency had a blanket policy of not employing anyone with a criminal record, unless it was for driving offences (so drink-driving was okay, but sitting in the road was off-limits). I’d been open about my criminal record from the start and the previous owners had not considered it an issue, but now I was sacked, with no possibility of redress because agency workers did not at that time enjoy complete employment rights.

In addition, I’ve found it almost impossible to obtain home insurance. Insurance companies seem to have a blanket ban on offering insurance to anyone with a criminal record, however old or irrelevant. Now my convictions are spent I don’t have to declare them, but it does make me think very hard about taking up civil disobedience again. The carefree days of my twenties and early thirties, when I could go out and risk arrest with no concern for the consequences, seem a long way away.

We live in a society which is increasingly risk-averse and where there is apparently a paedophile round every corner. It is hard to find a job which doesn’t require a CRB check – I even had to have one in my last job where I was talking to pregnant women about washable nappies, despite the fact that their children were still in the womb.

Woman, 40s with convictions for nonviolent anti-war protests.

A person who has “spent” convictions does not have to disclose the conviction, and employers cannot refuse to employ someone on the basis of spent convictions. However, you have to tell employers about all your convictions – spent or not spent – if you want to work with children or vulnerable adults or if you are applying for certain professions such as law or health care.
Most fines become spent after five years. Prison sentences of less than six months become spent after seven years. Sentences of between six months and two and a half years take 10 years. Sentences of over two and a half years will never be spent.

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